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Initial Contrast


Explanations > Perception > Visual Perception > Initial Contrast

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When we look out at the world, we have to distinguish what things are out there in front of our eyes. The first step along the way to find contrast, anywhere in our field of vision, some change in light, from black to white, from red to blue, and so on.

When we have detected contrast, then we can then look for an edge to follow and so determine a shape that we can name and hence understand and cope with.


Here is a low contrast object, blurring in from white to a faint gray. Notice how even though it is faint, your eye still homes in on it as it seeks any contrast within the field of vision.





When we look out into the world, all that arrives at our eyes is electromagnetic radiation, of varying frequency and amplitude. We have to turn this into meaningful understanding, so the very first thing we look for is contrast. The greater the contrast, the easier it is for us to determine edges and shapes.

The best form of contrast is sharp, where one shade stops and another picks up immediately. In practice, contrast is not always sharp and can be rather blurred. We hence look widely for the darkest and lightest points in a zone of interest in order to determine the best contrast.

When we awake at night and it is dark, our eyes strain to see some light. In the dark, our pupils dilate to let in even small amounts of light. In this way, we can 'see in the dark' by perceiving and interpreting even very low levels of contrast. Other animals, such as cats, are very much better than we are at this, letting more light into the eyes and having more sensitive light sensors there.

So what?

When you want to communicate something visually, ensure the person can detect contrast. To make something stand out, increase the contrast, especially in comparison with other contrasts in the field of vision. Hence use white against black, bright red against pale green, and so on. Also ensure the edges of items are clearly delineated.

See also

The Principle of Contrast, Contrast principle



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